09 March 2007

The Lowdown on H-Town, Part II

This is part of a series that begins here.

After returning from Galveston, we made off for dinner at Magnolia Bar & Grill. This was my second trip to this venerable Houston establishment. The last time I was in town, the weather was great and we ate outside. This trip, temperatures dipped into the 40's, so we decided an indoor table was in order. Magnolia has a large and varied menu, but their specialties include a lot of creole seafood. First up on my agenda was this stellar bowl of shrimp gumbo. The picture, as usual, does not do this bowl of spicy goodness any justice. You could not dip the spoon into the bowl without pulling up three shrimp per spoonful. The broth was spicy, but not distractingly so.

My dinner entree was another Texas gulf specialty, stuffed redfish. There were three of us at the table, and two of us ordered the redfish. My other dining companion (the artist formerly known as "Wacky Mutant Assistant Chick") went with the stuffed shrimp, which were also described as excellent. The redfish came with a lump crabmeat stuffing (like the shrimp in the gumbo, you could pick out the large chunks of crabmeat in the stuffing). The mashed potatoes that accompanied the dish were some of the best I have ever had.

Wacky Mutant Assistant Chick also grabbed a piece of their key lime pie, and put away the whole thing. Personally, I liked the fruit garnish, but I am not a fan of key lime pie - and can I just tell you how hard it is to live in Florida and not like key lime pie?

Breakfast the following morning was at the Avalon Diner, which earned a prominent spot on my Best of 2006 list. You can follow along after the jump...

Before departing Houston, "wanderingjew" and I planned to meet up for breakfast at the Avalon. Unfortunately, he ran into some car trouble and had a rough go getting to the restaurant. We ended up in slightly more of a rush than we had anticipated, but the Avalon is a worthy stop for some pre-road trip grub. Located in a non-descript strip mall in a somewhat upscale neighborhood, the Avalon Diner doesn't look like the kind of place that would normally attract my attention. But, one step in the door, and you immediately feel as though you have taken a step back in time. The decor is retro - the traditional 1950's diner feel. I love the oversized soda caps hanging on the wall.

To be honest, my breakfast was unexciting - I ordered the old-fashioned, thin, small-tread waffle, based on a Michael Stern recommendation. It was good. But, just good. Wanderingjew ordered the chicken fried steak (sorry, I didn't get a photo), and I have to admit - he won. This is definitely an instance of "when in Rome..." and when in Texas, chicken fried steak is usually a pretty good option.

The real reason I added Avalon to the Houston recap, though, was to add the photos and the full attention that my previous visit deserved, but was never written. On my last visit, I sat at the counter and observed the inner workings of a tradtional diner from a cat bird seat at the counter. There is nothing like getting the first-hand view of the interaction between the cooks and the servers at the counter. On top of the ambiance, the thin-patty burgers at Avalon are delicious. The crinkle-cut fries are the ideal accompaniment.

The burger, fries and a shake was a great meal, but on my next trip through town, I want to check out their fresh-squeezed lemonade (they also do limeade). This machine makes the magic. You can see the fresh limes and lemons in the background. I watched as they created each glass, as it was ordered. Each lemon squeezed on the spot, a little syrup and sugar added and blended perfectly and served in an old-style fountain glass.

Well fed, we departed for Shiner, Texas, the home of Spoetzel Brewery - the makers of Shiner Bock beer. More on that in the next installment.

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